Still proclaiming his innocence, a Baltimore man received the maximum 30-year sentence yesterday for the strangulation of his wife, Ozaleia Smith-Nivens, a 35-year-old postal worker whose nude body was found in a Carroll County trash bin Aug. 31.
A Baltimore Circuit Court jury found Douglas E. Nivens, 35, guilty of second-degree murder March 7, and Judge Ellen M. Heller said yesterday that the circumstantial case against him was strong.
After a history of complaints against her husband, Ms. Smith-Nivens had attempted to serve him with divorce papers Aug. 30, 1990 -- the day she disappeared, the judge noted.
Her 20-year-old son testified that he returned to their home in the 1200 block of Sherwood Avenue about midnight to find his stepfather in the house -- although Nivens no longer lived there -- and his normally taciturn 3-year-old brother still up, running around and saying, "Mommy's gone. Mommy's hurt."
Nivens drove off in his wife's car shortly afterward, according to trial testimony.
About 3 a.m. Nivens was seen by a witness a few blocks from Ms. Smith-Nivens' house, walking away from her car and carrying clothing. Her nude body was found at 10:44 a.m. by a Fogle's Refuse crew emptying a trash bin behind the Sykesville Moose Lodge in south Carroll County.
Nivens, an auto mechanic for the state Division of Correction, told the jury he had run out of gas and his wife had dropped him off at a service station that night.
Yesterday, the tall, well-dressed man spoke rapidly, again denying his guilt but saying "I will do my time day by day," then turning to his family: "Take care of my kids. . . . I love you all, and I know that those who don't love themselves may learn to love."
As Judge Heller began to review the evidence, Ms. Smith-Nivens' grandmother burst into tears and left the courtroom.
Her tears were not only for Ozaleia, the grandmother said. The victim's sister, 26-year-old Gail Smith, a Baltimore Sun employee who lived with her in the 3300 block of Marble Hall Road, was found dead Dec. 5, 1989 -- nude and strangled in an abandoned house at Maryland Avenue and 20th Street.
Assistant State's Attorney H. Jerome Briscoe said after yesterday's sentencing that he will seek a grand jury indictment later this month against Nivens for the murder of Gail Smith.
Mr. Briscoe said Nivens had had an affair with Ms. Smith, and that both women had broken off their relationships with Nivens.